Swimming across the Hudson

Overview

As a child, Ben Suskind wonders how his family came together. What if he hadn't been adopted by Jews, what if his brother, Jonathan, had been adopted by a different couple? He and Jonathan fantasize about being the secret sons of Sandy Koufax, of coming to earth in a spaceship. They make blood pacts and switch names. But while they imagine other identities, they search for ways to feel that they belong to each other, to their parents, to their home. As adolescents, even in the familiar and happy comfort of the ...
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Swimming Across the Hudson: A Novel

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Overview

As a child, Ben Suskind wonders how his family came together. What if he hadn't been adopted by Jews, what if his brother, Jonathan, had been adopted by a different couple? He and Jonathan fantasize about being the secret sons of Sandy Koufax, of coming to earth in a spaceship. They make blood pacts and switch names. But while they imagine other identities, they search for ways to feel that they belong to each other, to their parents, to their home. As adolescents, even in the familiar and happy comfort of the Manhattan apartment where they live, their dreams of girls and rock stars are colored by these concerns. Now Ben Suskind is thirty years old, living in San Francisco with his girlfriend, Jenny, and her daughter. He still reflects on the questions of his youth; Jenny often has to pull his head out of the clouds. So when he receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his birth mother, he is unprepared, panicked, but curious. He tells his adoptive parents about the letter, and they fly him home to New York and reveal a secret about his past, one that turns Ben's whole world upside down. Without telling anyone, Ben embarks on a journey, risking his relationship with everyone - his girlfriend, his brother, his parents. He combs through the records of his family's past, trying to find the facts about who he and Jonathan really are, and in the process learns the price of the lies people tell in the name of truth and good intentions.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The trials of a small Jewish family whose adopted son reacquaints himself with his birth mother provide the background for Henkin's debut. An understated novel of ideas, it poses in accessible form serious questions about the nature of identitypersonal, sexual and, above all else, religious. Ben Suskind, 31, a countercultural high-school teacher, and his gay younger brother, Jonathan, who's a doctor, live in the Bay Area. They were both raised in Manhattan by adoptive parentsa stern Jewish professor at Columbia and his more relaxed wife. Dad has long been at pains to see that his boys don't dilute their heritage, an issue that becomes pressing when Susan Green, who's both Ben's plucky young birth mother and a gentile, meets up with Ben and gives his head a spin. Ben, already a little jittery, grows sufficiently absorbed in the history of his biological family to threaten his relationship with his live-in lawyer girlfriend and her daughter, as well as with his brother and his parents. A man stalled, unable to embrace the future until he has resolved the riddle of his past, Ben gradually comes to understand that he can be a legitimate Jew without recourse to the Old Testament. His parents' love has made him a member of the tribe; and religious observance, from kosher cuisine to Sabbath and synagogue, can remain points of refuge and serenity. Henkin has a refreshingly unpretentious style, but this mini-saga lacks punch. Ben's epiphany that "the past year had been nothing but a string of lies... my identity slippery and slithering,"following a strange, 11th-hour cascade of deceptions intended to uncover Jonathan's birth mother, provesonly as poignant as a particularly absorbing episode of TV's The Real World. (Apr.)
Library Journal
This first novel is so filled with family dynamics it almost bursts. Two adopted brothers, Ben and Jonathan Suskind, raised in New York City by loving and observant Jewish intellectual parents, are now just past 30 and living in San Francisco. Narrator Ben is unsettled about all sorts of issues: his Jewishness (he is living with a Gentile and her daughter), his career as a high school teacher, and his identity. So when he receives a letter from his birth mother, he decides to meet her and sort through his past. Jonathan, a gay physician, has no such troubles. As Ben unravels much of his adoptive family's secrets, his birth mother's past, and then the identity Jonathan's birth mother (whom he seeks out surreptitiously), he is not sure he has done the right thing. Henkin delivers a heavy dose of changing family traditions in the 1990s, which for some readers may be a struggle. Still, this is an illuminating work; recommended for general collections.Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399141164
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/14/1997
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 0.82 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2002

    Can't Stop!

    You can't stop reading this book! It's that good. I was shocked at how much I loved this book. Well-worth the time!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2001

    Incredible!

    This book was incredible start to finish. I could not put it down. The emotion these characters convey is over whelming. I normally stay away from books with a religious theme, but I am so glad I gave this book a chance. This story will no doubt move you.

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